New Zealand’s Ardern leads poll as first election debate held

WELLINGTON (AFP) – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged New Zealanders to trust her COVID-19 response yesterday, as an opinion poll showed her in a commanding position ahead of the October 17 general election.

In the first televised debate before the vote, Ardern said she stood by a virus programme that has limited the outbreak’s toll to 25 deaths in a population of five million. “I know there is a huge amount of uncertainty right now. That’s why a plan is necessary, so is optimism, that’s what Labour will bring,” she said.

Judith Collins, who leads the main opposition National Party, said Ardern’s government had failed to secure New Zealand’s borders.

The TVNZ/Colmar Brunton poll put Ardern’s centre-left Labour Party at 48 per cent, well short of the record 59 per cent it enjoyed in mid-May but enough to retain power with minor party support.

The conservative National Party was on 31 per cent, down one per cent, while a range of minor parties showed small increases in support.

Ardern’s backing as preferred prime minister was steady at 54 per cent, while nearest challenger Collins dipped two points to 18 per cent since the last poll in late July.

Ardern, 40, rose from political obscurity to win the last election in 2017 with support from minor coalition parties.